Alison McDonald

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 11 March 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d1601
  1. Jane McCusker,
  2. Sarah Meredith

Alison McDonald came from a family where women’s education and independence were valued. Her professional achievements spanned more than 50 years.

During the second world war she worked in general practice, but in 1949 went to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, first as a student and then as lecturer in public health. Her lifelong interest in the effects of prenatal exposures on disability in children began there, with a prospective study of maternal health and congenital defects, which led her in 1958 to the Paediatric Research Unit at Guy’s Hospital, where she undertook an important follow-up study of children of very low birth weight.

In 1964 she and her husband, Corbett, also an epidemiologist, moved to Montreal, and the rest of her life was divided between England and Quebec. At McGill University she and Corbett initiated and carried out a programme of epidemiological research into the health effects of asbestos and related mineral fibres. In 1978 she was appointed chair of the Department of Epidemiology at St Mary’s Hospital Medical School, but rather than retire at 65 she returned to Montreal in 1981. There she combined her interests in prenatal and occupational exposures in a comprehensive study of all 56 000 women who delivered in Montreal during a two year period to examine the effects of work in pregnancy on birth defects and pregnancy outcomes.

After retirement, Alison devoted the energy, patience, and pragmatism that epitomised her professional work to her gardens in the Eastern Townships of Quebec and West Sussex. Towards the end of her life, two hip fractures and progressive dementia made her dependent on others, which she disliked intensely but endured with her characteristic strength.

She leaves her husband, Corbett; four children; eight grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.


Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d1601


  • Epidemiologist McGill University, Montreal, Canada, and St Mary’s Hospital Medical School, London, UK (b 1917; q Royal Free 1941; MD 1950), d 4 November 2010.

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